I live in Larkspur, California, population 12,000 or so, about ten minutes walk from a historic downtown that's only four blocks long. And yet in my little town I've seen acclaimed opera productions, Tony-winning plays, great local musicians, singers and actors -- all in a beautifully restored 1936 movie theater, the single best cultural space in Marin, as far as I'm concerned.
When the previous owner left, the Lark stayed empty for several years. Because the downtown is a National Historic District, the building facades cannot be changed in any way; if you look at a photo of the street from, say, the forties, everything looks the same but the cars. That kept the single-screen theater frozen in time until it was spiffed up, renewed and reopened as a nonprofit in 2004 -- with better seating, state-of-the-art sound and visuals, not to mention fresh popcorn with real butter, organic beef hot dogs, Lappert's ice cream, even beer and wine and root beer floats. It's been humming ever since.
On the Lark stage, we've seen jazz singer Paula West and solo actor Geoff Hoyle; the Hot Club of San Francisco, performing before and during three cool Surrealist silent films from France; comedians Will Durst and Mark Pitta, who each year hosts an Academy Awards-viewing party at which dressed-up patrons partake of food and wine from some of Larkspur's finest restaurants. From my plush red-velvet seat, I've watched Live at the Met opera and National Theatre London plays, such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Oh, and a few movies, too. Sample program, for Wednesday, July 29: 1 p.m., Amy (new doc on Amy Winehouse); 4 p.m., I'll See You in My Dreams (newish movie starring Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott); 6:30, Met Opera: Aida.
And next week, thanks to the Lark's inventive executive director, Ellie Mednick, comes Summertime: Pure Gershwin. To start, tenor Othello Jefferson, soprano Hope Briggs and baritone Frederick Mathews, accompanied by music director Barry Koron, will perform a concert version of George and Ira Gershwin's beloved operatic musical Porgy and Bess, co-written with DuBose Heyward. After a reception in the lobby comes a screening of Rhapsody in Blue, the 1945 Gershwin bio-pic starring Robert Alda as George, Herbert Rudley as his lyricist brother, Ira and people like Paul Whiteman, Al Jolson and Oscar Levant as themselves.
Needless to say, I'll be in one of the plush red-velvet seats.
Aug. 1, Summertime: Pure Gershwin, live music and film, Lark Theater, 549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, 415.924.5111, larktheater.net.